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I intercepted a lightning bug as it flew past me where I stood on my mother’s front porch. He sat on my index finger and I looked at him; he didn’t blink his light and he didn’t fly away. He stayed on my finger for my whole walk home, little black antennae bending and straightening. When I got to my building I saw my neighbor’s slender grey cat in the grass so I sat down to join him there. As I settled onto the ground the bug opened its four wings and lifted off my hand and up into the sky.

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Two nights ago, in the middle of the night, something woke me up. It was like 2:30 in the morning, and I felt vaguely itchy and sweaty as I often do this time of year, so I shifted and tossed myself around uncomfortably for a few minutes before I heard it.

An owl.

I have lived in this congested, city-ish suburban neighborhood for my whole life. I grew up just a few blocks away, in the house my mom still lives in, and now I rent an apartment in a lovely brick building that got finished being built on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7, 1941, or so my landlord tells me. Living here I’ve seen raccoons, groundhogs, tons of squirrels, and many different types of birds, including hawks, bluejays, cardinals, robins, hummingbirds, wrens, sparrows, oh so many kinds including a wayward pheasant that found its way into our backyard one spring day when I was about 10. I’ve seen chipmunks and rabbits—the grounds my apartment building is on were literally hopping with rabbits last summer—and more varieties of native and non-native plants and trees than I could name, though I’m going to try to name lots of them here as this blog develops.

But I have never, ever heard an owl.

And this was a BIG one.

I sat up and crawled across my bed to the open window and pushed the curtain aside. It was a full moon, the Full Flower Moon of the beginning of May, so the houses behind my building looked bright and I could see the black of the tarmac on the driveway gleaming like a river. Quiet, quiet. I sat there and listened until I heard it again.

Hoo hoo-hoo hoo hooooooo.

It sounded liike it was coming from the tall—I’m talking 80-feet tall—trees in the back of my building, but we’re in a little bit of a gully on this block and sound echoes weirdly. I left my bedroom and padded over the hardwood speckled with debris, might be time to sweep up a little, into the living room. Trixie was out cold on her favorite arm chair, the one she and I got to keep after we moved out of mom’s house because she destroyed it by clinging to it with her claws and thrashing around like a maniac every morning after she first woke up. We called it her exercise routine.

“Trix, don’t you hear that? It’s an OWL,” I told her, giving the side of her round belly a pat. She was unimpressed.

There it went again, hoo hoo-hoo hoo hooooooo. And again just about 5 second after that. For whatever reason owls make their calls, this one really felt a sense of urgency. Except for him everything was silent in the neighborhood, all the annoying families and the oddball singletons like me sound asleep in their beds (or else at their windows, like me, listening). My apartment is situated in the corner of my building, and listening out a living room window that faces west (I think). I could tell the owl was actually over there. He had to have been perched way up high and I had no hope of seeing him from down here unless he took off and started flying.

In my mind I saw The Owl and The Pussycat, things like that, all the beautiful drawings of wise, mystical, silver-white owls from picture books I remember as a kid. I have never seen an owl in real life. I wanted to see this one so much, but it didn’t seem very likely. I went back to bed and lay there, listening to him call through the quiet night until he stopped, or flew to some far away tree, and I fell asleep.

The next morning I looked up owls in my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin), which is excellent because it uses photos instead of drawings. But I only had the bird’s call, and the likelihood of his being in this part of the country, to go by. Based on these things I think the one I heard was a Great Horned Owl, who has a wingspan of 23 inches and is found throughout the United States in all seasons and all kinds of habitats. Apparently these owls are “often harassed by crows in daylight.” !

What do you guys think? Has anybody who lives in an urban area on the East Coast heard or seen a big owl like this before?